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The Hill Bachelors

By William Trevor
Published by Viking

In a sense, any review of William Trevor’s new collection of short stories is almost superfluous. After eight previous collections (now handily available in one volume, The Collected Stories), and twelve novels, plus two novellas, most people with more than a passing interest in literary fiction are probably familiar with his work, and have decided long ago whether or not they are fans. Given the consistently high standard of what he has been producing over the last forty years, if they have any smidgen of taste, they are. It is unlikely that he is going to start making false moves now. All that remains, really, is to encourage those who have not yet sampled the many delights of his writing to do so without further delay.
This is his first collection since 1996’s highly acclaimed After Rain, and contains a dozen new stories. What is fascinating about Trevor is the way he can deftly mix the traditional with the modern, and the personal with the social, what is happening in broader society with how it impinges on individual lives. So, ‘Of the Cloth’ brilliantly examines dwindling church attendances and the loss of religious authority in Ireland, by recounting an encounter between a Church of Ireland clergyman and a Catholic curate, after the funeral of one of the latter’s parishioners, who worked as a gardener for the former. It makes reference to the Fr Brendan Smyth affair, Fr Leahy telling the other man, “It’s where we’ve ended.”

 

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Similarly, ‘The Mourning’ paints an authentic picture of an Irish navvy’s experience of prejudice in London, and then works in the terrorist bomb that exploded prematurely on a bus in that city a few years back. The hero, Liam Pat Brogan, suddenly realises that he has been set up to complete successfully the job that was botched the first time. He gets off the bus, and throws the bag with the device off a bridge into The Thames. ‘It was his mourning of the boy, as he might have mourned himself.’ we are told.
‘Death of a Professor’ is an astute satire on academic snobbery, while in ‘Three People’ an elderly, ailing father waits for the proposal for his daughter that will never come, from the man who once told a lie to save her. ‘But Vera knows, without her father, they would frighten each other.’ Trevor is great at endings, the killer last paragraph, and last line.
But it is somewhat arbitrary to select standouts, because each story, in its own way, is worthwhile. He can convincingly shift social register to all levels of society, and with understatement and precision writes of the lonely and the betrayed. He captures the underlying tensions between people with a subtlety reminiscent of Chekhov.
Some years ago, John Banville called Trevor ‘The finest living writer of short stories.’ With his new book, Trevor is still proving the truth of that declaration. Trevor is, quite simply, a master. He is also, therefore, an exemplary practitioner for any younger writers working in the form.

First published in the Evening Herald

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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